July 2009 Archives

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Walmart's announcement earlier this month that they were creating a product-rating questionnaire for its suppliers is only one of many indicators portending a massive trend: the green product label.

Expect labels on products within a few to five years on everything from diapers to dish detergent indicating carbon footprints, water and energy use, resource consumption and health impacts. At some point international, national or even local rating agencies will devise or weigh in on such standards.

Already a biodegradable corn-based plastic bag sold nationally has on its box the stamp of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. The state of California is studying a Green Chemistry initiative that would require declaration of significant health-adverse chemicals in every product sold in the state.

Bay Area start-up TrueCarbon is hatching a voluntary scheme to provide a labeling icon for consumer products like soda that would indicate how much carbon was produced in the manufacturing and distribution of each can.

A logo, tracking number and website link will provide more information, and will allow consumers or the manufacturer to offset the carbon from their bubbly with funding for sustainability projects.

The Good Guide, put out by a professor from UC Berkeley, rates hundreds of products according to sustainability and health attributes that come from the need to know where did it come from, how was it made, and what's in it?

As the global supply chain gets more complex and products have begun to stop labeling where they were manufactured, like Hershey chocolate bars, now manufactured in Mexico, these are not simple questions.

The Good Guide allows user to filter their product ratings based on environmental, health or social criteria, and the results--based on chemicals, manufacturing processes, labor, country of origin and more--are presented in numeric order.

The Good products come out with green indicators with higher numbers (7-10), questionable light brown and the shady products come out with dark brown (5-6). Natures' Path Corn Puffs rated 8.3 on the environmental scale with Cocoa Krispies Choconilla (yum!) rating 5.2 on the same scale.

My point is that Walmart's announcement is significant but hardly earth-shaking, especially since they have not stated a target date by which they will demand eco-labeling or public disclosures.

The company's major tier of US suppliers have to fill out the 15-question surveys by October. That leaves the majority of Walmart's suppliers off the hook, as only a minority of the retailer's products come from the US.

Any savvy company with an eye to the inevitable will be preparing its own internal matrix of product and service impacts. These will include not only carbon inventories, which go light on getting information on "Tier 3" categories (suppliers vs Tier 1, the company's own operations), but on all its product impacts all the way from mining, to manufacturing, chemical components, transportation and disposal.

That would include getting all the details from suppliers of suppliers of suppliers, which is uncommon in most retail product supply chains

Taking an assessment of what's out there now in Walmart's survey, The Good Guide,  California's Green Chemistry initiative and beyond, should help companies define better what the future will look like when it comes to eco, health and social labeling.

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Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District on July 19, 2009, during "Sunday Streets" program that opened two car-free miles of streets to pedestrians, skaters and cyclists.

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San Francisco boogeyed for its fifth Sunday (the two were in 2008), marking a trend for streets to be closed to cars on weekends so people can use the space for their own devices, sans autos.

Portland, Oregon and New York City have also picked up on this approach to opening up urban space in creative new ways, following a trend that began in Bogota, Columbia called the Ciclovia, where 70 miles of the city's streets are available to non-carbon emitting forces for the entire Sunday. Some 1.8 million take part in Ciclovia.

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A little article in this week's Wall Street Journal caught my eye: General Motors auto sales in China this year might surpass those of the company's sales in the United States.

GM's US sales in first half 2009 were 954,356 units, compared to 814,442 units in China. In all of 2008 GM sold 1.1 million vehicles in China, so it looks like they are on pace to far exceed that number with 20% growth there forecast.

Note that the world is on pace to doubling the number of cars on the road by 2020, when 2 billion cars and trucks will grace our planet's roadways.

These new figures demonstrate that even with more fuel-efficient cars, the supply of oil of other natural resources will be under demand and environmental pressures that far exceed our ability to supply and use gasoline in way that our economy and global climate can tolerate. 

 

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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